After substantial debate, and in the face of additional debate during the fall election cycle, Congress recently passed landmark health care reforms that the president signed into law. The Senate approved fixes to garner enough support in the House to pass the Senate bill.
This may not be the final word on health care, however, sibecause the law is not effective until 2014. As the dust settles, it will be incumbent upon employers to set aside the remaining political rhetoric and understand our obligations under this voluminous new law which is certainly a considerable challenge.
A number of our Chamber members have expressed significant anxiety to me not just about the health care bill itself, but about understanding this comprehensive overhaul of our countrys medical health system and how it impacts their business.
The current, thousand-foot view is this: Generally, for businesses with less than 50 employees there will be fewer immediate changes in how they treat health care. There will be, however, mandated changes to health insurance plans, including no denial of insurance for pre-existing conditions and no maximum ceiling on lifetime benefits. Those requirements alone will in all probability increase the cost of insurance for the small business owner and thats about 90 percent of the businesses in Alexandria.
For our larger businesses, those changes to health insurance plans apply as well but they face even more substantial and far-reaching changes mandated for those with 50 or more employees.
There is still much to learn and federal regulations to be drafted, so clear-cut answers will take some time. We will have a little time to prepare but for plan years that begin six months after the laws enactment date, there are a number of reforms that do go into effect at that plan start date.
So how do we learn to navigate this new health care law?
Typically, for larger companies, there are sophisticated employee benefits specialists who can share their expertise in redesigning employee health plans. For small businesses, the Chamber intends to do its part by providing periodic alerts to its members and offering a seminar about the impact of health reform on businesses having less than 50 employees. Business owners can also somewhat rely on their insurers to provide information on the impact of the new law.
One thing about this new health care law we know must prepare for pretty much any way you look at it, businesses- both large and small, must prepare to face higher health care costs.
Tina Leone is president and CEO of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber CEO Tina Leone